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Toshi Omagari on the history of gaming and digital typography

Posted on 13 Nov 2019

Font designer Toshi Omagari talks about gaming history, digital typography and his debut book 'Arcade Game Typography'.

How would you describe arcade game typography?

Video game typography has more fun factor in comparison to other kinds of on-screen typography, such as user interface and web. The typefaces need to be not just functional but also sometimes decorative, animated, or both. That’s how I would describe the history of arcade game typography, a constant experiment of entertainment and legibility, done by developers outside the realm of traditional typography.

What were some of the games that made you first take notice of game typography?

It was when I became a professional typeface designer that I became conscious of the typefaces used in the game. Having said that, I was surprised at how much I remember from my childhood, as I could successfully tell the games just by looking at the fonts at first sight. I guess I was unconsciously absorbing the typography aspect of video games even before high school age.

What was the research process like for this book?

There was no one central resource on the topic, and majority of my time was spent on gathering them in one place. After getting the images, I wrote Python scripts to convert them to functioning fonts so that I could evaluate their design just like regular fonts. I presume that the amount of time and commitment that went into the research could be equivalent of a PhD.

While some say arcade game typography is a thing of the past, the rise of new retro-looking indie games say otherwise. Why do you think arcade game typography and pixel-art are having a resurgence?

Modern games became very complex for developers. It has become too hard for a small group of people to make top-grade games, so it makes sense to opt for simpler aesthetics. Low resolution is not necessarily the only solution, but a popular one nonetheless due to the nostalgia around it. Modern games comes with a lot of hassle for gamers too, such as having to make a user account, downloading gigabytes, and in-game purchases. I totally understand the desire to go back to the simpler times. I suspect this is also why indie games with retro art style is popular. I think the pixel fonts is a necessary part of the experience, though the game industry used to do better. I want to bring back what I consider to be the best ones to the community and encourage them to push the art forward.

Some iconic arcade games are recognisable from their font alone. Do you think typography still plays an important part in today’s gaming world?

Absolutely. You can never separate type from games, and its importance is only increasing. As we now have decades of video games, some series have become iconic franchises. Companies are starting to treat them as individual brands; Electronic Arts’s FIFA series has been using the same typefaces for several years, so do Mario games. Typography is being taken more seriously on the accessibility and localisation fronts too, as more companies are supporting font size options and more languages.

What’s your favourite typeface from the book?

I want to mention a whole category of typefaces rather than one. The mechanically-looking MICR typefaces, most notable of which is Data 70, would not warrant a category of its own in traditional typography. In video games however, it was one of the most popular styles because of its futuristic and pixel-friendly design. This is such a peculiar phenomenon only seen in video game typography that I have come to adore it.

Related Topics

Arcade Game Typography

The Art of Pixel Type Toshi Omagari, Kiyonori Muroga